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This past October (2022) I was at Multiversecon. I am the PLAY track director for MVC and one of my duties was running the Chuck Tingle RPG for some guests. It was absolutely a performative experience where we were exposing (pun intended) the convention audience to the Tingleverse and its crass and colorful backdrop.
What is Chuck Tingle? An author who has created a colorful fantasy world where they write their crazy sexual dinosaur stories. It is full of parody. Chuck Tingle has a great following among the geek trade and published an RPG to go along with their novels.
I will talk a little about the game itself and a bit about the role performance plays in some RPG sessions.
The system is pulled from the D20/3.5 D&D but there is no OGL and to my knowledge no copyright was injured in the making of this game. There are some interesting tweaks provided in the text that make the system less cluttered, but the combat system feels a little like THAC0. You still have 3 saves and the Nine Alignments (I should write a book with that as the title), though there may be a more performative aspect to the game. In fact, everything about the CTRPG has a level of performative action to it.
CTRPG is a class and level-based system. Players earn experience as a group for completing quests and individual steps in that quest line. Defeating the rhino who is hoarding condoms in Idaho is worth experience points, as is defeating any traps, puzzles, and or henchmen the rhino puts in your way. Players take on the role of humans, bigfeet, raptors, and unicorns, called type. Their trot is their profession or class, and these are: Bad Boy, Charmer, Sneak, True Buckaroo, and Wizard.
Other than array of groan-inducing monsters, there is not much in the way of situational prep provided as guidelines. Everything provided is basic, though the background and setting are engaging and perhaps just the right amount. I am not sure the thematic intent and the system match up very well and there is not much game here. For instance, there is not much consequence to failure. A system with high failure that had (at least) narrative consequences built in would this setting more justice. To get game out of this syetm requires a little work, which may be rewarding for fans of Tingle.
Session: Very Bad Muse
For the session, which ran about 90 minutes, we had 4 players: A Terror Bird (Raptor), an actual Raptor, a Bigfeet, and a Unicorn. They walked into the bingo hall of St. Rapterine in Billings, MT USA. In the hall, were some Catholics were playing bingo, the group over heard a small man named Trodo and his potato friend Sam talking about the bad editor person who stole Trodo’s novellas. The team negotiated to retrieve the work, taking $50 US each up front, except the Unicorn, who performed degrading sexual acts on the potato.
As an aside, everything was consensual in and out of fiction. The players knew they could ask me to ease up if anything made them uncomfortable, though I did tell the audience coming through the door implied consent. And it was refreshing to be vulgar in a consensual situation, where normally we avoid too much detail.
After an incident with a snake in the road (inspired by the poisonous macho game from Flash Gordon), the team arrives in Canada at the dungeon of the Bad Muse. There is another potato*, the Muse (editor) is a dominatrix. Some fighting breaks out and the situation is resolved.
Performative Play (?)
There is no question that this was entertainment for members of the convention. Experienced rpg folk, including myself, took the Tingle system and used it to entertain the audience. Were there moments of genuine play? Yes, I think so. The way the unicorn engaged with the various potato NPCs comes to mind. The player reacted in the fiction to the one potato, and this informed the unicorn’s subsequent potato fetish. The bigfeet player, who is Trans, played a Trans bigfeet, whose Unique Way was fetishism of Trans people. And who in character referred to “their player” and the circular meta turned out to be the exact way to play CTRPG. Tongue firmly in cheek, with a 4th wall breaking wink to the audience, whether real or imagined. The raptor players had their moments as well.
A couple lessons here. An RPG can exist within a variety of constraints that do not always feel constraining. If we see a narrow band of proper RPG / social behavior, CTRPG must live outside of this. To have a run-of-the mill quest would be missing the entire point of the game. If you are not making sexual innuendo, there is not much point for using this text.
But titillation is not play. Not knowing where the players and their characters are going to end up is not the same thing as bounce. They may not bounce of off anything and just go about their merry way avoiding the situation entirely. That these players did not speaks well of them as people who did not want to derail what I had planned (I did not have much planned). If there had been no audience, I do think the play would have been different in some ways. Which brings up the idea in my head, what would a game look like if designed with the audience factor in mind from the ground up?
My prep for this game was minimal. Three lines in fact.
- Trodo and Sam the Potatop
- St. Rapterine / Bingo Hall
- Muse = Evil literary editor / Dominatrix
I also knew I wanted to have the challenge scene from Flash Gordon in there, but that was in my head not in my notes.
*Potato is an in-joke for Multiversecon.